A big new initiative on citizen voice, accountability etc was launched last week. OK it’s a bit obsessed with whizzy new technology, and light on power analysis and politics, but it still looks very promising, not least because it is being run by three top outfits – Hivos, IDS and Ushahidi. It is also a potential source of funding for work on accountability, whether programmes, research or campaigns – applications close 8 November.
Here’s the blurb from the website:
‘Making All Voices Count is a global initiative that supports innovation, scaling-up, and research to deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness.
This Grand Challenge focuses global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions, including those that use mobile and web technology, to ensure that the voices of citizens are heard and that governments have the capacity, as well as the incentive, to listen and respond.
A while back, a friend and colleague here at the World Bank told me of an experience that bothered him. He had been talking to a minister in an African country where the government had been making strenuous efforts to become more open and transparent. It had passed a Freedom of Information law, made quantities of government information available, liberalized the media sector, thus creating a vibrant, even raucous public sphere…all the things people like me urge developing country governments to do. In a couple of neighboring countries, said the minister, the governments had gone in the opposite direction. They had restricted access to official information, clamped down on the press, and were generally thuggish towards the media, civil society activists and so on.
What the minister asked my colleague is roughly this:
‘Can you guess which government is being painted as corrupt and incompetent by local and international NGOs and the local and international media? Ours!’
So having berated ODI about opening up access to its recent issue of the Development Policy Review on Transparency and Accountability Initiatives (TAIs), I really ought to review the overview piece by John Gaventa and Rosemary McGee, which they’ve made freely available until December.
The essay is well worth reading. It unpicks the fuzzy concept of TAIs and then looks at the evidence for what works and when. First a useful typology of TAIs:
By the late 1990s, moves to improve public finance management the world over led to the development of budget accountability and transparency as a sector in its own right…. An array of citizen-led budget TAIs has developed, including participatory budgeting; sector-specific budget monitoring (for example, gender budgeting, children’s budgets); public-expenditure monitoring through social audits, participatory audits and tracking surveys; and advocacy for budget transparency (for example, the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s Open Budget Index). Many of these initiatives focus ‘downstream’ on how public funds are spent; less work focuses on T and A in revenue-generation, although this is growing with recent work on tax justice.
OK, we’ve had real time evaluations, we’ve done transparency and accountability initiatives, so why not combine the two? The thoroughly brilliant International Budget Partnership is doing just that, teaming up with academic researchers to follow in real time the ups and downs of four TAIs in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania. Read the case study summaries (only four pages each, with full versions if you want to go deeper), if you can, but below I’ll copy most of the overview blog by IBP research manager Albert van Zyl.
By following the work rather than tidying it all up with a neat but deceitful retrospective evaluation, they record the true messiness of building social contracts between citizens and states: the ups and downs, the almost-giving-up-and-then-winning, the crucial roles of individuals, the importance of scandals and serendipity.
In recent years, Media & Information Literacy (MIL) has been increasingly recognized as a critical element in good governance and accountability. This is partly due to the rapid growth in technologies, which has contributed to a changing media landscape and new forms of citizen engagement. To thrive in this environment, citizens need the critical abilities and communicative skills to effectively access, analyze, and evaluate information. These skills will help citizens make informed decisions and form opinions that can impact their daily lives and the communities they live in, as well as minimize risks associated with the very same technologies, such as security, safety, and privacy. With its empowering effect, MIL can foster a citizenry capable and aspired to demand better services, hold leaders accountable and engage as active stakeholders in governance reform. Yet, MIL has struggled to gain the momentum needed to become part of the development agenda. However, this might be about to change.
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.
Is there a model to track citizen experience of water services and present it in a ready-to-use manner for decision makers and the public? Would better articulation of citizen preferences encourage more meaningful engagement with service providers?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
This African Smart Card Helps Catch Disease Outbreaks
“Facebook has noticed something that other companies would do well to heed: The biggest opportunity right now isn't in smartphones, where users are bombarded by the fruits of an ever-more-competitive market for apps and mobile services. Rather, the big play for some companies, especially any that wish to expand into emerging markets, is on the "dumbphones" — aka non-smartphones or, in industry parlance, feature phones — that most people in rich countries have now left behind.
The initiation and countrywide implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) represents a milestone in social policy and employment creation with its right based approach and focus on livelihood security. The flagship program has benefitted millions of marginalized rural households by providing them unskilled work and led to prevention of stress migration from rural areas in lean agricultural seasons. A UNDP/Carnegie Endowment for Peace study points out that from the scheme’s first year of operation in 2006-2007 till 2010-2011, job creation accelerated from less than 1 billion workdays distributed amongst 20 million households to 2.5 billion workdays for 50 million households.
In the above context, the 2013 performance audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) should be a timely opportunity to analyze the immense management and convergence challenges that a program of MGNREGA’s size poses. This is especially relevant in view of CAG’s observation that undertaking of non permissible works, non completion of works and lack of creation of durable assets during the period 2007-2012 indicated that the poorest were not able to fully exercise their rights under the program.
One of the ‘bottom up’ features’ of the program is its reliance on rural local self government structures i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to reinvigorate community driven participation and decision making in service delivery. The first key institutional challenge, therefore, is to make MGNREGA’S program implementation effective by enforcing PRI ‘activity mapping’ (unbundling subjects into smaller units of work and assigning these units to different levels of government) that was set in motion after the historic 73rd Constitutional Amendment, 1993. Herein, the Central Government and the States of the Union, have to jointly actualize the principle of subsidiarity- what can be best done at lower levels of government should not be centralized at higher levels. Empowering PRIs especially Gram Panchayats (last mile units in villages) with funds, functions and functionaries (3F’s) is a critical incentive to build their institutional capacity for service delivery. This, in turn, would provide them the teeth to carry out their core responsibilities under MGNREGA such as planning of works, registration of beneficiaries, allotting employment, executing works, making timely payments, maintaining records of measurement and muster rolls.